Saturday, December 13, 2014

My Final Blog Post... and Our Class Project

It is finished.

This has really been a challenging and fun semester, and I am so glad that I got to share it with you all.  Katie and Mikey, I'm sure that you are excited about tomorrow and looking forward to what the future may hold, but it's hard to accept that I won't get to see you two around campus any more!  I am glad nonetheless that I was able to get to know you for the short time that we had together.  Marshall, Gary, and Sam, I hope that we can stay in touch when we're not forced to see each other thrice a week.  Dr. Rich... it's not time for goodbyes yet, I'll see you in the spring.  You all are welcome to our apartment any Monday night for dinner and wrestling (that includes Katie and Mikey-- and Atticus, too-- if you're around).  I hate to be all sappy and emotional, but that's not going to change anytime soon.

Without further ado, I now present to you the final project of the Professional Wrestling in U.S. Pop Culture class of 2014 (or a link to it, anyways):

Merry Christmas, friends, and Have a Nice Day!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Higher Power Revelation

Besides being an iconically hilarious moment in wrestling for me personally, the Ministry of Darkness and Higher Power storyline is an interesting example of the shattering of the ideal nuclear family that Sammond discusses within the WWF and some of the most outlandish writing in any storyline ever. The Monday Night Wars saw some interesting content, but the Undertakers gang of Satanic revolutionaries takes the cake for me. With the revelation that Vince McMahon was the much-anticipated Higher Power in control of the Undertaker and the Ministry of Darkness, a many-months-long storyline was rendered nonsensical. Vince's reasoning was that he wanted to demonstrate to Stone Cold Steve Austin that he would stop at nothing to piss Steve off. This apparently includes ordering the Undertaker to "kill" his bodyguard the Big Boss Man, kidnap Stephanie two times (the 2nd time theoretically with the knowledge that Steve would step in to save Stephanie before she was married to the Undertaker so he could take over the WWF), and ruin Vince's relationship with his wife, Stephanie, and Shane, the latter making it very unclear whether he actually was in on the schemings or not. This storyline is a classic demonstration of the spectacle of excess (to riff off Barthes) that characterized the Monday Night Wars: rampant Satanic references, the eschewing of family values, and shocking violence and melodrama all coming to a completely nonsensical crescendo. To me, it is the most "wrestling" moment in all of wrestling.

Edge, Lita, and Jeff Hardy

This is an example of the line between reality and kayfabe getting blurred perhaps a little too far from 2006. The clip is really not as important as the storyline, but I had trouble finding a clip more illustrative of the storyline. Lita joined the Hardys in the early 2000s to form Team Xtreme, and dated Matt Hardy off screen. After Lita got involved with Edge, she and Matt split. This was then incorporated into the storyline while it was happening, leading to Lita becoming Edges handler. Upon Jeff Hardy's return to the WWF after a vacation relating to the drama that was unfolding in real life, he has to wrestle Edge and incorporate all this real-life unpleasantness into a performance alongside a person with whom he was probably not at all pleased. This is reminiscent of the storyline with Goldust in which he was divorcing his wife both in real life and on television. Mick Foley talks about having a kernel of truth incorporated into ones angle to make the acting easier and the storylines more believable, but at this time there seems to be more emphasis on realism and less accounting for the emotional cost on the wrestlers. This is probably in large part due to the internet and dirt sheets allowing fans to be way too knowledgable of the wrestlers private lives. The technological revolution gave the public unprecedented access to information and ultra-realism is a reaction to that.

Edge's Inappropriate Pin

This is a more straightforward presentation, and the length of the video reflects that. In 2006, the ECW was briefly revived for a series of matches, including this six-man tag with Edge, Mick Foley, and Lita versus Tommy Dreamer, Terry Funk, and Beulah McGillicutty. Edge decided to cover Beulah in an explicitly sexual fashion, while she is apparently unconscious. While this may have been planned as part of the ode to the old days of ECWs rampant inappropriateness, it really underlines some of the issues that we have looked at in terms of treatment of women, particularly invoking for me that part of Wrestling with Manhood where they look at the storyline with Vince and Trish Stratus and question the audiences approval of the spectacle. Here I think there is less of a justification for the act, because there is no eventual storyline payoff, just Edge apparently taking advantage of an unconscious opponent to mime a sex act. In Wrestling with Manhood it is asserted that the fans took pleasure in watching Trish be subjugated by Vince; here we see hard evidence of fans taking pleasure in questionable material without evidence of self-awareness. The title of the YouTube clip is "Wrestling Best Pin Ever." When I first saw this match it really disturbed me, not only because it was the first time I really had to confront the treatment of women in wrestling, but because of the (to me) unjustifiable nature of it. To this day it stands in my mind as the most egregious instance of misogyny I have seen in wrestling, which is a little ironic given my admiration for Edge as a wrestler.

Video 3 from Marshall

The next story line that I am covering is one that includes Vince McMahon. In this video he kisses Trish Stratus in front of his wife, Linda. Vince throws it right into Linda's face to humiliate her. The aggression that Vince shows toward the "affair" is a bit much. This video shines light on affairs and cheating in an odd way. It almost acts like it's okay for a husband to humiliate and cheat on his wife because he's the one in control and has the power. Vince shows this power by bringing Linda on stage and kissing Trish. The announcers call it sickening and uncomfortable, but you can tell that the crowd is crudely enjoying it. The whole scene bothers me because cheating can tear apart families and ruin lives.

For Viewing Lab

Wrestling is a theatrical production, combining violence & dialogues, sweat & spandex, and real blood & fake tears.  “The emotional response which professional wrestlers seek to invoke in their audience… is significantly different from that experienced by other sports fans who want to see their favorite athlete or team win a contest” (Craven & Moseley, Actors on the Canvas Stage, 332).  The “contest” wrestling fans come to see is just the manifestation of the drama swirling below the surface that erupted into that moment in the ring.  When Shield member Seth Rollins turned on teammates Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns in June 2014, the resulting feud between Rollins and Ambrose was more engaging because of the backstory of betrayal.  It was not simply two men’s physical strengths that were pitted against each other, but “the eternal conflict of good versus evil personified in the physical struggle for dominance.”  Ambrose wanted revenge, something he might not be able to get in the real world.  The fans come to watch the drama, “the Portrayal of Life;” the actual wrestling is just the means.  A standalone Rollins-Ambrose match would not be uninteresting in itself, but the larger context of the drama makes every move more significant.

Seeing wrestling as an entertainment business is easy: there are drama-heavy storylines and larger-than-life characters that are the physical manifestations of some form of good and evil.  We all know that wrestling is not a show of physical prowess, with wrestlers fighting with all they have for glory and a big belt, yet we still get upset when a match doesn’t look “real” enough, whether that be because of no-selling or overselling a move.  If we know that wrestling is “fake,” why are we offended when it looks that way?  These next clips exhibit three cases of move selling: the no sell, the over sell, and the perfect sell.  As Triple H goes for the Pedigree, his finishing move, the commentators know that the end is near for the Ultimate Warrior.  Luckily, the Ultimate Warrior wore a mask of steel instead of paint for this match, apparently, and is able to rebound from a Pedigree like a champ.  Triple H returns in the next clip against Randy Orton, who makes Triple H fall onto his outstretched leg.  Triple H is bound to go down after that, but manages to stay on his feet for a staggering 70 seconds before hitting the mat.  I guess Orton’s boot takes a while to kick in.  Finally, we have my favorite seller, Dolph Ziggler, who can make every move look great.  That’s what fans want to see, and while instances that stray from the mark may be humorous in small quantities, the real entertainment—and the ability for audiences to suspend disbelief—comes from great sells like those of Ziggler.

Video 2 from Marshall

The second video I'm posting is about a new character that the WWE introduced as a Racist Tea Party member. Zeb Coulter and Jack Swagger state what they think is wrong with  America. They say that having so many foreigners and other races, other than white, is what is causing the decline of the society in America. Zeb says that he doesn't even recognize America because he looks around and says that all he sees are people with faces different than his and that he can't understand what they're saying because they speak different languages. He also asks the question of how we get rid of these people. While this kind of statement angered lots of people and seemed to cause quite a controversy, all the WWE had to  say about it was that they have a long history of having protagonist and antagonist and that these characters were no different. AND the WWE is right. They have always had these type of characters, some that showed even more racism than these two. Does that make it okay or acceptable? No! But as I learn more of the culture of pro wrestling, I am more understanding of it...  

Video 3 - ethnic stereotyping

I chose this match between Antonio Rocca and Karl Von Hess in the 1961 event at Comisky Park in 6/61 as a good example of ethnic stereotyping, which has long been popular in wrestling. I also chose this video, as compared to other possible videos of ethnic stereotyping, due to the location and this time period in wrestling history. It offers us a glimpse of the past in terms of wrestling text as opposed to what we see today.  Rocca has been a fan favorite for some time, while in the 50s, Von Hess changed his image to a Nazi sympathizer, and was a supreme heel; fans absolutely hated him. Yet he drew huge crowds until the early 60s when his Nazi angle wore thin. Politically, the US was more concerned about the Cold War at this time, which intensified during the 60s. Von Hess, the arch villainous Nazi heel actually was raised in Omaha and was in the Navy as part of their underwater demolition team before he entered professional wrestling.

Rocca’s always gave a great performance using his feet as a weapon, and in general being very agile in the ring. The fans loved his showmanship and style of wrestling. On the other hand, Von Hess embodied a cultural myth taken from post WWII of a Nazi German. Back in those days, a wrestler did not need a big backstory of his character as he was already culturally stereotyped, and wrestling had plenty of ethnic stereotyping as early storylines which can play out in many ways (from our reading of Battema and Sewell.) In this video, you can see him dressed in a kind of military pants. The announcer says he attended the German-Prussian Academy at 4:50. This is in the era where there was actually some wrestling going on, although seemingly boring as compared to the modern day. 

Incidentally, this match took place AFTER the main event in which Buddy Rogers beat O'Connor for the title, and the announcer mentions that no one left the park.

If we have time, here is one of the funniest interviews I have seen from the 60s period... not your typical ringside interview.

It starts at about 28 seconds in... 

Video 1 from Marshall

As we all know, Professional Wrestling isn't known for being politically correct. I think that part of their popularity comes from the fact that they aren't worried about being politically correct. It's an interesting phenomenon. My first video is about the homophobia that is displayed within Pro Wrestling. While pro wrestlers are performing very gay actions, they make very homophobic remarks. The video I've posted is literally called "Gay Off." While I don't really take offense to it, a lot of the things they say on the show are very derogatory. As discussed in class, a lot of this is to make sure their fans that they know they aren't gay. I find it interesting that in the video the fans are chanting "You are gay!" It's obviously the reaction that the wrestlers were wanting. I saw that there were some fans that were pushing for a gay character within pro wrestling, other than GoldDust. I don't necessarily see the need for that. The WWE might not benefit from that at all.
1. In 2000, there was a storyline where Mark Henry was in a relationship with Mae Young, who was 77 years old at the time. Mark ended up getting her pregnant leading to her eventually giving birth to a hand. Then, in 2012, on RAW’s 1000th episode, Mae Young shows up with a guy dressed up in a hand costume, claiming to be her son. This is what the clip below shows. As weird as this clip is, it is a perfect encapsulation of so many aspects of wrestling. Wrestling pushes boundaries, and this storyline did just that. Not only were they depicting an interracial couple, they were creating an overtly sexual couple, and they were depicting a relationship between a 28/29 year-old and a 77 year-old. (Not to mention, we had to watch Mae give birth to a bloody hand.) This storyline is also a great example of the continuity within the story of wrestling. Everything that happens in the wrestling world must be understood as real within that world. It is not like cartoons, where there doesn’t seem to be a continuous storyline – where something could happen in one episode and never be mentioned again in any other episode. As ridiculous as it was, to have an old storyline resurface after 12 years is really cool and part of what makes professional wrestling so unique.

2. The below clip is a match that took place at Wrestlemania 24 and was a career match between Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair. The stipulation was that if Ric Flair lost, he would be forced to retire. At this point, he had been wrestling for around 36 years. A lot of matches, but particularly this match, exhibit wrestling as theatrical, as a play, as suffering, as tragedy. First, this match is taking place at Wrestlemania, literally called “the grandest stage of them all.” Everything from the costumes to the lights to the ring itself screams theatrical. This is a play being performed for an audience.
Besides the setting, we have a storyline, an emotional context. Flair knows that if he loses, his career is over. At the time of this match, he was 59 years old. Everyone knew his end was drawing near, but Flair (obviously) didn’t want to believe it. Which is why this match is nearly 30 minutes. Ric Flair is giving everything he has with a death grip on his career. He refuses to give up. The emotion on both the faces of Michaels and Flair indicate that this is hard for both of them. Flair is a legend in Michaels’ eyes and he knows that he won’t give up. But he also knows that it’s time for Flair to retire and the only way for that to happen is if he delivers “Sweet Chin Music.” You see the Shawn’s hesitation. He lifts up his foot, getting ready to “strike up the band.” But he lowers it slowly, his face clearly indicating how upsetting this is for him. Even the crowd knows this is difficult; they are torn, just like Michaels. Eventually, he comes to terms with reality and takes Flair out, pinning him and ending his career. Before he exits the ring, he places a kiss on Flair’s forehead. He doesn’t even stick around to celebrate his victory. He is emotionally spent.
This match, to me, is a perfect example of wrestling as theatre. Flair and Michaels perfectly portray the emotions they need to in order for the audience to feel the same pain and suffering they are experiencing. They are both making facial expressions and exhibiting body language, exaggerating them so that the whole audience can see – just like in a play. The comedy elements that are present in a lot of matches are not present in this one. This is tragedy at its peak. This is theatre.

(Note: The following clip is the whole match. Obviously I'm not going to show all of that in class. Just going to show the entrances and the last bit of the match.)

3. The clip below is the speech given by the Ultimate Warrior the day after Wrestlemania 30 on Monday Night RAW. This was also the day before he died. This speech perfectly depicts the immortalization of wrestlers, elevating them to a status like that of gods. They become mythological in this way, worshipped by fans. We see this in play when fans bring signs to the arena that say “Foley is God.” (I mean, we even call Hogan ‘The Immortal Hulk Hogan.’) In this clip, you can see fans in the background raising their hands in the air, literally worshipping Warrior.

Every man's heart one day beats its final beat, his lungs breathe their final breath, and if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit will be immortalized.”

Not only is it so eerie that he spoke these words a day before he passed, but with these words he is confirming his spot as a legend. Everyone listening that night truly saw him as some form of a god. And so when the news spread Wednesday of his death, no one could believe it.

Conflicting Images of Race

Professional wrestling has frequently used racial or ethnic characters, either to appeal to a particular local demographics or as a quick means to create a immediately despised heel (the Foreign Menace as described William C. Martin's article "Friday Night in the Coliseum").  In many of these cases the race or ethnicity of the performer was the extent of the characterization. To paraphrase the comments of one wrestling insider, ethnic characters did not need a gimmick as their ethnicity (e.g. African American, Puerto Rican) was their gimmick.  In other cases, the audience was simply not aware that the performer’s race or ethnicity diverged from the ethnic characterization being portrayed. For example, most Native American characters were not Native American, but Hispanic (see the Youngbloods), Italian-American (see Jay Strongbow), or even Iraqi (see Billy Whitewolf). Similarly, while an audience may have suspected that the Soviet wrestlers were not Russian (most were American or Canadian), in most cases the performers’ physical attributes and attempts to speak with an accent led plausibility to the characters.

Chief Jay Strongbow (Italian American)

Wahoo McDaniel (Native American)

This latter case where the ethnic background of the performer conflicts with the character presented immediately reminded of a Mick Foley interview from his Cactus Jack ECW days (1995), where he begs Tommy Dreamer to sign with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) where:
you truly can be anything you wanna be! I've seen it all a hundred times Tommy. I've seen a tough Jewish kid from Brooklyn become a black man from Macon! I've seen a farm kid from Nebraska become an overnight pop star sensation! I've seen a kid from New Hampshire become a Frenchman. And one particular wrestler who went through 5 different incarnations before finding himself heavyweight champion of the world.

Foley’s first reference—converting a Jewish kid to a black southerner—references Marc Mero. A golden gloves boxer, Mero was portrayed as a Little Richard character in WCW and for all intents and purposes portrayed as an effeminate African American. If memory serves, Mero (in character) was interviewed by Black Entertainment Television (BET) during his run in the 1990s in WCW. 

 Whereas Mero could arguably pass as black (just as Russians and Native American characters could pass), George Gray could not. George Gray, a white wrestler from South Carolina, spent most of the 1980s as a mohawked character the One Man Gang. However,  in 1988, his character in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) found his ethnic roots in “deepest darkest Africa” and reemerged as the dashiki wearing, jive talking Akeem the African Dream.  Although these cases may be the most extreme examples in the 1980s and 1990s, other cases emerge of Asian characters portrayed by non-Asian wrestlers (e.g. Yoshi Kwan, Makhan Singh,  Kwang).
The need to repackage performers who no longer draw an audience in part explains Foley’s tongue-in-cheek claims of WCW’s magic, but also perhaps explains the willingness for promoters to consider characters which conflict with the physical attributes of the performer in the first place. Wrestling after all creates characters already, so it is not a logical leap that promoters would use the talent they have to fill such roles, ethnic characterizations or otherwise. It also speaks to the abilities of the performers to transition to new characters.  Such diversity for example would be considered a strength in other artistic forms (e.g. acting). 

Video 2 - Vince's return

The second video I selected is the return of Vince McMahon to WWF television in 2000 during the Raw is War event. I chose this because it is in the Attitude Era of WWF, and it clearly shows part of the dysfunctional family storyline of McMahon (in terms of what led up to this) and the in-ring persona of Mr. McMahon.

The preceding history of the return is that McMahon and Triple H were in a deep feud, which reached its zenith when Triple H married Stephanie McMahon as part of the storyline. McMahon then faced off Triple H at Armageddon in 1999. McMahon lost, and Stephanie turned on her dad, siding with her husband. McMahon then left and disappeared from WWF TV, as he could not manage the marriage of Triple H and Stephanie, according to the storyline.

This video culminates the behind the storyline return of McMahon and the performance of McMahon as he returns to TV during the Attitude Era of the WWF. I think it is important as to the era of wrestling then, and shows the Mr. McMahon character, dysfunctional family scenes, as well as the thinking of the WWF writers then as to the stunts during McMahon's grand entrance to being back on TV, and the fans sensational reaction when he deals with Shane (his son) who was the ref. It also reflects how far storylines have come as an important part of wrestling, compared to the golden age of wrestling. It's payback at its best.     Starts at 2:56